As the Giro d’Italia entered its second week, Michael Rogers predicted that his Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Rafal Majka might struggle in the time trial from Barbaresco to Barolo, but he revised that bleak prognosis on reconnoitering the course on Thursday morning.
Pedalling through the Langhe in the company of Majka, Rogers realised that his young teammate had the capacity to shine on the demanding 42.2km course. Although stage winner Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was out of reach for all, Majka took fourth place on the stage and limited his losses to 1:39.
"I rode this time trial with Michael Rogers this morning and when we were riding, he told me that it was a time trial for me. He said, ‘You need to go in fast,’" Majka said afterwards. "I’m really happy."
Majka’s performance was enough to keep him in third place overall on a day that saw a number of general classification hopefuls flounder – Nairo Quintana conceded 2:41, for instance – and he now lies 1:52 behind Uran, one of only two riders within two minutes of the Colombian.
"Uran is strong but we still have a long, long last week and we need to keep our heads," Majka said. "I want to finish this Giro in the first three."
Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov has been a constant presence on the Giro, riding the course of many of the stages for himself, but Thursday saw the arrival of manager Bjarne Riis on the corsa rosa – a sign, perhaps, that Majka’s challenge is becoming ever more serious. Riis – who sold the team to Tinkov last winter amid a Danish investigation into his activities as a manager – was in the team car behind Majka on the road to Barolo.
"I think – I believe – that I’m very strong," Majka said. "Bjarne Riis is coming for the last week, in fact he was here today and he’s following me now. We have a very strong team. Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche are here to guide me. I’m still young but they’re guiding me and I’m very happy that I can ride with this team."
Majka was reluctant to revise his general classification ambitions beyond a place in the top three overall for now, although he noted that he expected to improve as the race progressed. "If I went strong today, it means that I’m going to be strong in the mountains too," he said.
The Pole also holds the white jersey of best young rider as the Giro winds northwards into the Alps, and he admitted that he was hoping for an improvement in the weather ahead of the weekend doubleheader at Oropa and Montecampione.
"I think Saturday is going to be the more difficult of the two stages, because it’s got a lot of hard climbs, not just one," he said. "Let’s just hope the weather is a bit better and we have some sun. I’m Polish, but I like the heat."